Field notes weekly #10

This is a weekly update on my progress to document the history, perspectives, and narratives of the metaverse. For more on the contents and structure of the book, please see “Structuring my field notes“.

Current book word count: 79,727


I am still hacking away at the Web3-related chapters. I want to talk about Bitcoin as the first digital currency without a central authority, born out of the cypherpunk movement and an ideological view of economics. Ethereum built on that to apply similar concepts to cloud computing. And Web3 was the effort to apply these principles of mistrusting central authorities and a specific ideological view of social dynamics into the wider context of computing. More specifically apply them to social media and governance systems. So far so good (and over-simplified).

But then there is the situation that cryptocurrencies have since turned into a speculative asset. Specifically one that is an unbacked, unregulated zero-sum casino, living in a market awash with pyramid schemes, wash trading, securities fraud and overall market manipulation. We can easily point to many bad-faith actors that try to lure as many investors as possible into the crypto-space to dump their bags onto them and grab their money.

My initial struggle was that I didn’t want to describe either group in isolation, as they have established a weird, almost synergetic dynamic. Then again, I don’t want to mix the two as they are distinct groups with very different goals. My current attempt is to write about Bitcoin, Ethereum and Web3 in their “purest” idealistic form. I believe the initial authors of these movements to be honest about their aspirations and you can clearly see where they come from and what they want to “fix” with their approaches.

The whole financial speculation side of things, including speculation casinos, ponzi schemes, fraud and other bad faith actors within the space, will be relegated to their own chapter. I still think I need to talk about it, but it’s important to differentiate between perspectives, aspirations, and ultimately impact on the larger frame of the metaverse.

Speaking of the metaverse / virtual world aspect, it’s somewhat unfortunate that I’m writing the book right now, since there are some interesting concepts being developed around what the Web3 community calls “Autonomous Worlds“. As Web3 addresses the centralization of the Web, autonomous worlds address the centralization of virtual worlds. The basic premise is similar to what Raph Koster noticed in 2006 when developing the short-lived Metaplace:

By 2006, virtual world servers had turned into giant, purpose-built monolithic infrastructures. Realistically, there was no way to re-use the server code of a virtual world. Developing virtual worlds and MMOs thus took a lot of time and resources, meaning that only companies with immense funding could develop them — a stark contrast to previous MUD and MOO servers that could easily be cloned, extended, and re-used by everybody.

I’m not a fan that the AW community also uses the word “MUD” to describe their concept, but I can see where they are coming from. In any case, since this is still in development, I will unfortunately not cover it with a chapter in the book. Maybe in a future revision?

Reading & Watching

The Politics of Bitcoin: A fascinating look by David Golumbia at the politics that led to the eventual creation of Bitcoin, from Austrian economics to cyberlibertarianism. This is the foundation to David Golumbia’s talk I shared last week.

Attack of the 50ft Blockchain: A humorous look at the early days of blockchains, from Bitcoin to Ethereum to exchanges by David Gerard. More importantly, the book contains hundreds of references to source materials.

Making common sense of cyberlibertarian ideology: The journalistic consecration of John Perry Barlow: A paper about how the press amplified cyberlibertarian views in the early Internet and home computer revolution.

Stanford Seminar – Can We Mitigate Cryptocurrencies’ Externalities

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